After a day’s work, people like to blow off steam, relax and reassemble themselves. There are many ways to go about this.
Some go for exercise, like an invigorating, sweat-laden game of handball, racquetball or basketball. Some don their jogging attire and embark upon pounding the pavement, dodging pedestrians and potholes. Still others clamp a helmet upon their head, squeeze into tight shorts and pedal a bicycle down the mean streets of the city, dodging car doors, open manholes and rabid dogs.
Others relax by taking in a movie, reading a book, listening to or playing music, doing some gardening, tending to their stamp or baseball card collection or just zoning out in front of the television. But most people merely head to their favorite watering hole and DRINK!
Alcohol imbibement is one of humanity’s oldest and most popular activities. The ancient Greeks and Romans reveled in wine-laden orgies. Drink produced babbling Babylonians, piflicated Phoenicians, messed up Mesopotamians, blitzed Byzantines, snookered Sumerians, Egyptians who could no longer walk like Egyptians and so on and so forth in a not very straight timeline of ancient civilizations.
I’m sure that prehistoric man concocted some sort of hooch from an assortment of roots and berries and snake venom. Nothing gets you going in the morning like a little hair of the Cenozoic bear dog.
When I worked at the harp shop, a group of us would gather after work on Wednesdays at a tavern in Old Town called Marge’s. We called ourselves “The Ancient Guild of Harp Makers”. Not all of us were harp makers per se. Some were carvers, some were regulators, some, like me, were gilders but each and every man jack of us worked in some capacity at the Lyon & Healy Harp Shop.
However, we did not gather at Marge’s Tavern solely to drink. Oh, no. We also gathered there to sing.
One of the harp makers, Pat, would bring his banjo. The rest of us would write songs, to the tune of old standards like On Top of Old Smokey, Working on the Railroad, She’ll Be Comin’ ‘Round the Mountain, Tiptoe Thru the Tulips, etc. but with new lyrics, all about working at the harp shop.
There was a little back room where we would gather, a dozen of us, sometimes more, sometimes less, and drink pitchers upon pitchers of beer while singing our lubricated lungs out while Pat strummed and plucked on the old banjo.
Once in a while, one of the other Guild members would bring a guitar along for accompaniment. Sometimes, a harmonica or a recorder was added to the mix. Anyone was free to bring along any instrument they wanted but we did draw the line at panpipes.
After a while, we stretched out from rewriting lyrics to old standards and began rewriting lyrics to newer standards. One night we did a rousing, energetic performance of rewritten lyrics to “The Weight”, complete with four part harmony. We really emptied the joint out that night.
I think we emptied that joint out every Wednesday night. When one walks into a bar and hears a banjo and a bevy of drunken voices bellowing in various tones, notes and pitches emanating from the back room, one isn’t likely to linger any longer than it takes to down a shot of Wild Turkey.
Despite our racket, we were never asked to leave or even hush our tones by the owners of the establishment. I think we consumed enough beer to cover any business that might be lost by any departing music lovers. Plus, we might have looked a little scary. We certainly sounded scary.
Those days are long gone but, still, whenever I hear a song by The Band being played I think fondly back to “The Ancient Guild of Harp Makers” and quietly belch.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Arty Facts…
|Leave a comment|
In Part I of “Wait, Wait, Don’t Kill Yourself…” we were living in a permafrost hell dreaming of Arizona sun and a Cubs world championship. Now that we’ve thawed out a bit in Chicago, here’s a White Sox preview.
As always there’s a lot of pressure on the White Sox to win this season, because with one World Series trophy in 98 years, the Sox are the baseball team with the championship pedigree in this town.
But White Sox spring camp began on a sour note when fans learned that ace Chris Sale had fractured his right foot. Sale claims to have injured himself stepping off his truck but didn’t provide much in the way of details.
Well, The Third City is here to shed light on this murky story.
Because he carries himself like a mild-mannered top-of-the-rotation starter and he’s built like a pretzel rod, most people are unable to piece together that Sale doubles as intergalactic crime fighter The Amazing Sailman. His get-up involves a lot of awkwardly protruding masts and jibs, but when there’s a good tailwind, he can really move.
This offseason Sailman was busy undermining a diabolical plot masterminded by his nemesis Professor Doomsday. Using a giant proton ray gun aimed at all the world’s house pets, Doomsday planned to vaporize the little buggers sending all of humankind into a collective depression. The mad Professor then would be able to catch everyone off guard, corner the world soybean market, and use the spoils as his launching pad to intergalactic domination.
Sox fans wanted this from Chris Sale…
Sailman arrived just in time to foil the plan, confronting Doomsday on his spaceship about to trigger the ray gun. As Sailman lunged at his arch enemy, he tripped over the Professor’s cat, Evil Felix. Concerned about his feline sidekick, Professor Doomsday became distraught, allowing Sailman the opportunity to knock him out cold with a boom, saving the world and the galaxy.
In the end, alter-ego Chris Sale’s fractured foot was a small price to pay.
Speaking of paying up, after miserable campaigns in ’13 and ‘14, General Manager Rick Hahn and the White Sox decided to throw money at the problem. This offseason, the Sox spent more than $130 million in free agent acquisitions.
The White Sox can spend big after eight straight years of declining attendance because their ballpark is mortgaged and maintained by the people of the State of Illinois while the team operates virtually rent and tax free. This devilish scheme sounds like the stuff of comic book fiction but it’s not. But hey, at least Jerry Reinsdorf isn’t getting all of that public dough and rolling out the Astros!
Among the free agent pick-ups is Dominican slugger Melky Cabrera, known as “Melk Man” or “Leche” (which is Spanish for “finally, a two-hole hitter!”). Cabrera was suspended 50 games for performance-enhancing drug use in 2012. In other words, Melky’s got the good stuff. And while the Sox ranked 9th in extra base hits in MLB last season, and so weren’t exactly a team of weaklings, I would look for them to improve in this area.
Also arriving are closer David Robertson, who once struck out the Whammer on three pitched balls, and first-base/DH Adam LaRoche, who is old but pretty good. The Sox traded for former Cubs starter Jeff Samardzija, who replaces A.J. Pierzynski as the White Sox player whose name dimwit bloggers like me always have to Google how to spell.
I’d be remiss to conclude a White Sox preview without mention of the Cuban colossus, Jose Abreu. Women want him and men want to be him. And those who don’t, that’s cool too. But after a monster rookie season Abreu is poised to set the league afire, blazing a path of scorched earth for the White Sox to the Promised Land!
Editor’s Note: Chris‘s last post for The Third City was the abovementioned Part I…
|Leave a comment|
Previously, Matt left his job to find new work as a lawyer, and then promptly messed up his knee, playing basketball, and then he had knee surgery…
A string of fifty-degree days hit Chicago last week, finally melting the snow and ice that had made it difficult for me (and my surgically repaired left knee) to hobble around the block.
With spring in the air late Friday afternoon, I decided to go for a walk while the sun was still shining. Before heading outside, I opened my first-floor closet door to grab a light jacket. In the back of that closet, I spotted an old cane that was sandwiched between some winter coats.
Looking for any excuse to ditch my crutches, I pulled out the gun-metal gray cane, which looked to be a standard-issue medical supply store device, and quickly adjusted its length to fit my frame.
It was when I made that adjustment that I noticed the identification sticker on the cane:
Margaret M. Cunningham–7422 N. Oakley Ave.Chicago, IL 60645-1910
I first met Peg Cunningham about thirteen years ago, shortly after my family moved into our house in West Rogers Park. It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and Peg had just parked her silver Toyota in front of the house two doors west of ours. She got out of the car and began unloading some groceries that were in her trunk.
I was sitting on my front steps strumming an acoustic guitar. I’d not yet met all my neighbors, so I walked over to Peg and introduced myself. Since she looked to be in her early eighties, I also asked if I could help carry her groceries.
So began a wonderful friendship.
Peg & Samantha…
As we carried her bags into the house, Peg told me she didn’t live there. Her younger sister did. Peg, however, grew up in that house before World War II and had lived there until she got married.
She told me she still lived in the neighborhood, five or six blocks from me, and regularly visited her sister, who was battling dementia and was able to remain in the house only because she had full-time nursing care.
Peg and I talked for almost an hour. She told me she was a retired CPS teacher. Her kids were grown and she now lived by herself, having been widowed some twenty years earlier.
She was a charming woman. I fell for her immediately. She was smart, funny and kind. I gave her my phone number and told her she could count on my wife and me if she or her sister ever needed help.
From that point on, we saw Peg on our block once or twice a week until late 2006, when her sister passed away. By then, my wife and I had grown quite close to Peg, who had also taken a serious liking to my youngest daughter, Samantha, who was four years old.
Over the next five years, Peg became a fixture in our lives – a frequent dining companion, a regular at my music gigs, and (for all practical purposes) another grandmother to my youngest daughter. Peg knew she could call our house at all hours if she ever needed anything.
As Samantha got older, she and Peg became thick as thieves. Peg and Samantha would regularly urge my wife and me to go out on Friday or Saturday night just to provide an excuse for Samantha to stay overnight at Peg’s house.
I never figured out whether Peg or Samantha had more fun on those overnight visits. Peg taught Samantha how to play poker. Samantha taught Peg how to use the internet. The two of them played the piano, watched old movies, and always had a ball together.
In January 2012, Peg phoned me on a frigid Saturday morning because she wanted to go to the hospital. My family and I raced over to her house. When we got there, Peg was dressed and ready to go. She looked weak and was hardly able to stand, even with the aid of a cane.
I tried to get her from the front door of her house to my car, but she was too frail to walk, and the ground was too icy for me to carry her. I called the fire department and an ambulance brought Peg to the hospital. My wife and my daughter took her cane and her purse and headed home. I took her keys and her wallet, called her son (who lived in the far north suburbs), and followed the ambulance to the hospital.
Peg passed away in that hospital a few days later. I was honored to be a pallbearer at her funeral. Samantha still has a handwritten note from Peg on her desk. The woman was one-of-a-kind, and my family and I talk about her often.
And until last Friday afternoon, I had no idea Peg’s cane was in my house. It made my slow-motion walk around the block extra special.
Editor’s Note: Matt‘s last post for The Third City was The Unemployment Diaries–Part Five.
As many can attest, I’m a bit of a hermit. The less I have to do with humanity, the better. I feel that I’ve rubbed enough shoulders in my time, many of them the wrong way, so I tend to seek as little friction with society, be it clad in polyester, flannel or leather, as I can.
However, I was invited to take part in a one-night-only art exhibit extravaganza along with about ten other artists. The exhibit was called “Lovers and Haters: A Valentine’s Day Experience” and was to be held on, quite naturally as well as serendipitously, the fourteenth of February.
In a moment of weakness, I accepted.
The last time I had been part of any type of art exhibit was probably twenty-some years ago and Ben “Wild Chicago” Hollis, with his safari suit and microphone, snubbed me. Not that it bothered me any but my memory, like my underwear this past winter, is long.
As a result of that two decade time gap, I wasn’t quite prepared, presentation-wise, for another exhibit. I had plenty of art pieces to choose from but they were not gallery-ready, i.e. framed and matted.
Before you get the wrong idea about my, let us call it talent, my particular “art” does not consist of paintings, etchings or sculpture. It doesn’t even consist of macrame. It consists of cartoons. Cartoon illustrations, if you prefer a more highbrow title.
But, do not think that I belittle this talent that I have worked at developing and polishing over the years in any manner other than modest jest. I adhere to the saying coined by S.Clay Wilson, “If you’re not good enough to be a cartoonist, maybe you can be an artist.”
Not that I’m casting any aspersions. I barely care to cast a shadow.
Kiss me–I’m an artist!
I looked through my drawings, which are primarily black and white, created with India ink sloshed onto Bristol board with a Winsor & Newton brush, to find what I could that would comply with the theme of the exhibit…or, at least, come close.
Being a thrifty sort, I tried to fit these pieces into as many frames that I could find that were lying around my studio. Not too many existed so I had to go off and shop for some which meant that I had to open my nearly-rusted-shut coin purse, giving the moths that resided within some air, and dole out some greenbacks for matte board as well.
Having purchased these items, I then had to go through the laborious activities of measuring and cutting and matting and framing. This, of course, also involved a bit of re-measuring, re-cutting and re-framing but I’m proud to say that, at least, I did not slice myself up—not even once. A rare accomplishment, indeed, that I applauded myself for… after putting down the utility knife.
Eventually, assembly was completed and everything looked pretty good. Professional, even.
The morning of the exhibit my wife accompanied me to the exhibit space to set up. I am certainly glad she did because, thanks to her, my framed items ended up hanging straight and evenly spaced. I had eleven pieces in all (I’ve never been one for even numbers), a table where I had copies of a couple of my books for sale and on another table, a laptop playing a music video on an endless loop. I animated and co-wrote the lyrics to the song that played in the video. It’s about love and cake so it fit right in with the Valentine’s Day theme.
There was quite an expansive array of talent being exhibited. Besides my little sideshow of black and white cartoon illustrations and comic strips, there were paintings of different sizes, shapes, mediums and subject matter, hand-made jewelry, photographs, wall-hangings constructed of various materials, prints, and a light show projected upon a trio of giant hearts. Live music was to be served up as well as food and drink.
The weather that day was blustery. The temperature hovered around five degrees and The Hawk was howling. It being Valentine’s Day as well, I didn’t know what to expect turnout-wise. As is my wont, I wasn’t particularly optimistic but I found that I was looking forward to the event, come what may.
Well, the turnout was tremendous! It was a great crowd, vibrant, enthusiastic and interesting. I had sent out a mass-email invitation and was pleasantly surprised by how many of my invitees showed up, many of them from far-flung suburbs to boot. I actually enjoyed myself within the throng of people, even speaking with folks I did not know from Adam.
Hell, I didn’t even know Adam. But I very well may have rubbed shoulders with him.
To my utter astonishment, I sold stuff. Several of my framed pieces were purchased as well as copies of my books. Don’t get too excited though because I tend to undercut myself. Quite a few people told me my posted prices were too low. The very model of a modern businessman, I am not.
But, a sale is a sale.
The next day, I totaled up my take on the night and it amounted to $180. Hoo-whee! But then, I did what one should never do. I took into account my costs. After adding up what I spent pitching in on the space rental and laying out for frames and matte board, my total expenditures came to $175.
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Robot Man…
|Leave a comment|
“You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.” — Samuel Beckett…
I’m a 20th century man in the 21st century.
That’s how I feel sometimes. Other times I feel like a caveman peering through a window, wondering just how that there crackly fire gets started. I feel this way, of course, because of technology.
I never was a fan of technology. Never interested in machinery or mechanical innovation, I never drove a car until I was nineteen and if my girlfriend didn’t make me learn how to drive, I’m not sure I ever would have learned. I just wasn’t that interested.
Change is something that takes me a long time to accept, much less embrace. Microwaves had been around for a long time before I finally agreed to have one in the house. I still mainly use it only to heat up cold coffee.
Keyless cars will soon be the only choice for a new car buyer. I will hate it. I already do. I have a car that has one of those doohickeys that you can press to open the doors. I still stick my key in. I’m a stubborn old cuss.
Back in the ‘80s, my kids told me that we were the last people on the block to get a VCR. Remember them? Yep, I still have one. Just for the record, I also have a DVD player. But not a Blu-Ray. Let’s not get crazy now.
Speaking of VCRs, I can now commiserate with the older generation’s problems with that piece of machinery back then—how to record a show, how to get that 12:00 to stop flashing—since I have been similarly confounded by the computer.
I was late coming to terms with this brave new world of computers. I used to make a living in animation—drawing animation, “Old School” as the kids of today call it, and audibly sniffed at computer animation. Nothing but a passing fad, I mis-astutely predicted. Guess who ended up outside looking in?
In fact, if TIME magazine hadn’t contacted me about doing a weekly strip for them back in the late ‘90s, I don’t know when I’d have cozied up to one of these cold, hard plastic machines. The art director told me that they needed rough ideas by Wednesday, they’d choose one by Thursday and I’d have to get the finished art to them by Friday so it’d be in the ‘zine on the stands by Monday.
Since they were in New York and I was in Chicago, I asked, “How would I do that?”
“Email.” he said.
So, through the help of others I first learned to email and then to scan in art, make files, color via Photoshop and compress a file so it can be emailed. I must note that people who were into computers at the time loved to teach others how to use them. They were so generous with their time and patient in their instruction, I must grab a hat so I can take it off in praise of them.
I even bought a computer of my own. A few of them, actually, since their lifespans are akin to those of a gnat. So, I do know my way around one. There are certain things I know how to do and do them pretty well but there is soooo much I do not know. There are still folks around who are generous with their time but my mind works slower than do the ones of this generation.
My attempts at learning animation techniques on the computer have failed. Trying to learn how to draw on a tablet hasn’t worked out. Endeavoring to produce a web site, even via sites that promote themselves as being easy and simple to learn have demonstrated that I’m too simple to learn.
Within my limits and in the areas of computer usage that I’m comfortable with, I can sail fairly smoothly, with a modicum of shouting and cursing, but more often than I’d like, I tend to feel like Blanche DuBois, dependent upon the kindness of strangers to help steer me through the rough waters of electronica.
Yup, this century just ain’t exactly to the likin’ of the likes of me but, short of living in a shack in Montana, what else can this old dude do but abide?
Editor’s Note: Jim‘s last post for The Third City was Pistachio Joe…
|Leave a comment|
It’s possible that, if you’re like me, you’ve been a bit confused.
In the waning weeks of another merciless Chicago winter, navigating ruptured pavement and everything caked in soot from vehicle emissions, you may believe we’re living in some phantasmal, frostbitten, former Eastern Bloc country in the midst of civil war. You may imagine that your sons have all died in battle, and you might be ready to die yourself so that your starving daughters can feast on your frozen flesh until fertile spring.
Well, I’m here to tell you to wake up! This is America dammit and it’s time for baseball!
That’s right, Spring Training is here! Or the light at the end of the elevated-train tunnel (hey, an oxymoron!) for bitter Chicagoans still laying claims to dug-out parking spots with superfluous beach chairs.
Our beloved teams have already graced the well-manicured practice fields of their publicly-expensed facilities in the Arizona desert. In the process they’re debuting some new personnel we’re destined to love or loathe after rushing to judgment.
Maybe the biggest splash of the offseason was the Cubs’ snaring of Joe Maddon as club manager. The man boasts an impressive resume and a huge brain.
As a child prodigy Maddon became Grandmaster chess champion at the age of 12 before graduating from Harvard Medical School when he was 15. He later dabbled in rocket and neuro science while collecting Nobel Prizes like they were rec league trophies.
As a member of Mensa, Maddon had a reputation for showing up to meetings, calling everyone a moron, and then gorging himself on pita and veggie dip.
He was stoned, of course. Tragically, the pressures of being a celebrity genius proved too much for him. But Maddon dried out and a few years later took a job as manager of the Tampa Bay Rays.
At a domed stadium in a tropical region built for Jerry Reinsdorf to bluff the Illinois General Assembly, Maddon managed a small market, low-payroll ballclub into contention against the likes of the mighty Yankees and Red Sox. Maddon went to the playoffs four times in nine seasons, won two division titles, and one AL pennant.
After signing with the Cubs, Maddon called the impending World Series victory on the North Side, “my next miracle.”
As for the roster, the Cubs are expected to compete this season with a group of youngsters including Jorge Soler (23), Kris Bryant (23), Javier Baez (22), Starlin Castro (24), and Anthony Rizzo (25). This is a collection of both promising and already established talent, but mostly these players are around to make us feel old.
On the free agent front, the Cubs were able to scrape together enough cash by not providing health insurance to their grounds crew workers to land prized hurler Jon Lester for $155 million. That’s a lot of diamond-raking joints replaced and day-game sun spots removed out of pocket, and we thank the grounds crew for their sacrifice.
Lester came from the Boston Red Sox (before a brief stint with the Oakland A’s at the end of last season). Cubs President of Baseball Operations Theo Epstein came from Boston. The Cubs signed Lester’s preferred battery mate David Ross, who also came from Boston. The Cubs brought in former Red Sox sluggers Kevin Youkilis and Manny Ramirez as team consultants too. So I guess you could say that Theo is getting the band back together.
No doubt about it, the Cubs are on a mission from god.
|Leave a comment|
To celebrate my father-in-law turning 80, we took a trip to Puerto Rico with my wife’s family.
We started on Vieques, a small island off the coast of the main island. This is what the Associated Press had to say about it back in 2007:
Tons of bombs and other substances remain from the decades during which the Navy used the Puerto Rican island as its main Atlantic training site, combining air, sea and land maneuvers and using live bombs until two went astray in 1999 and killed a civilian guard. The Navy withdrew in 2003 after years of local protests.
After arriving there on an eight-seater prop plane, we were greeted by the property manager of our rental house. She gave us advice on staying safe from petty theft, and recommended we go to Blue Beach.
I’m not much of a beach guy, because I just think of battling city traffic, fighting for a parking spot at Montrose Beach, being surrounded by thousands of people, having to smear on greasy sun block, and getting sand over everything I own and all inside my car.
“The Navy just finished cleaning it up, removing the unexploded ordnance shells, and they did a fantastic job,” she said, “You have to check it out.”
And we did, and Blue Beach was a deserted paradise of warm, calm, clear water. Half a mile long and only one other family on it. This turned out to be a common theme for the five days and seven or so different beaches we went to, and I embraced it.
Our 20-month-old daughter did, too. Back home, when playing inside the house, she would get antsy every few minutes, wanting to change from having me push her around on her pink and purple princess mobile to setting up a fake picnic for Minnie and her stuffed lamb that she calls “Sheepie.”
But on the beach, she played happily in the sand for hours without complaint, skipping naps and not wanting to leave. She swam with “fishies” in the wild, and learned some new words such as “sea shell” that she has somehow found a way to use back home in the middle of Chicago’s winter.
My father-in-law spent part of the vacation finishing a conference presentation on his life’s work, Radiation Exposure of Aviation Crewmembers and Cancer. He has a PhD in a nuclear chemistry and for most of his career he advised the US government on how soon after nuclear events certain land could become inhabited.
Since meeting him ten years ago, I have heard many updates on his latest calculations, estimations and conclusions of the health risks of pilots and flight attendants. I told him I wanted him to see a practice run of his talk before the trip was over, but he got sidetracked drinking rum and never finished it.
My brother-in-law is an ex high school math teacher and passionate drummer who first mastered African rhythms and then switched over to a Middle Eastern style. While on Vieques, he arranged with a café owner to come back with his band in February 2016 and expose the island to world music, as opposed to the Salsa that dominates everywhere.
Man, I want to go to Puerto Rico!
One night we drove into town for dinner to find the road closed, with a DJ and dance party in the middle of the street. It turned out to be a behind the scenes video shoot of the making of Victoria’s Secret 2015 calendar. I’m pretty sure my wife will be in the background dancing with our daughter, and I may be in there with a floral-patterned diaper bag hanging over my shoulder.
After Vieques, we took a two dollar, two hour ferry with the locals back to the main Island and stayed in Old San Juan, a quaint and walkable neighborhood filled with tourists awaiting departure of their cruise ship.
Sitting on the loveseat of our balcony listening to the birds chirping, our daughter uttered the first semi-complete sentence of her life.
“Birdie, sit down! Birdie, sit down!” she demanded with excitement, pounding her open palm on the cushion. Neither my wife nor I were allowed to sit in that spot because she was certain a bird would join her.
I woke up the next morning with a red puffy and pussing eye, which I downplayed until later that day when it started feeling and looking worse. I began to stress out about having to (i) find a doctor (ii) who had an open Friday afternoon appointment, (iii) who could correctly diagnose me, and (iv) find a place to get a prescription filled.
I went down the block to the local pharmacy called Puerto Rico Drug. The two pharmacists took a quick look at my eye and agreed that I needed a particular antibiotic cream. I bought it over the counter for $8 and it cleared me up in two days.
On the mainland US, I would have needed to go the doctor, get a prescription and pay about 10 times as much.
Editor’s Note: Grabowski‘s last post for The Third City was The Slide…